In this new Radio Prague series, notable Prague residents take us to some places in the city to which they have a particular connection. Our first guide is Radim Špaček, who is perhaps best known as the director of the multi-award winning film Pouta, or Walking Too Fast. A former child actor, Radim also makes documentaries and co-organizes Prague’s Bollywood Film Festival. He was actually born on the other side of the country, in Ostrava, but came to the capital as a child.
Our first stop when Radim Špaček introduces me to “his Prague” is Vinohrady, specifically directly in front of the church of St. Ludmila on Náměstí Míru, which is about a 10-minute walk from the top of Wenceslas Sq.
“The family tradition is that my grandparents got married here [at the church] in the 1930s.
“I also lived near here for several years, in Mánesová St. Also this part of town is connected with my childhood, and not only because the Sbejbl and Hurvínek [puppet] theatre was on Římská St., quite near here.
“It’s also because of Český Rozhlas, the Czech Radio building [laughs], because I was part of the Disman children’s drama group. From the age of six or seven I went there regularly to act in some radio plays or fairytales.
“For us children there was a very romantic atmosphere inside the building. There was this paternoster lift, which was a big adventure for small kids. So yes, I’m very connected with this part of town [laughs].”
For people who don’t know it, what kind of area is Vinohrady?
“It’s not exactly the centre of town but it’s very close. It connects, let’s say, the centre with the outskirts, like Vršovice and Strašnice. Usually the buildings that are here and the apartments are quite…nowadays they are not so expensive but it’s a little bit better… society, or how would you call it?”
Higher society, perhaps. But it still is one of the most upmarket areas in the city.
“For sure it is. But I have a lot of friends who live here or rent apartments here, and I’m quite surprised that it’s very possible to find a reasonable place to live for a good price. And I think maybe I will return once to live here again [laughs].”
“Yes, exactly. It’s quite funny, because it’s an Indian film, a Bollywood film, which is called Ishkq in Paris. The Indian crew, led by the producer and actress Preity Zinta, who is really a top star in Bollywood, came here for one week or 10 days to pretend it’s Paris.
“It was Prague in summer, but they were pretending it was Paris in winter. We were shooting just around this church, and inside the National House in Vinohrady.
“There was even a quite well-known French star [laughs], whose name will come to me later [it was Isabelle Adjani].
“For a Bollywood fan like me it was really very exciting. To see all those stars and to see Indians making a movie, it was half fun, and half good experience.”
The next port of call for Radim Špaček and I is on the corner of Jungmannová and Vodičková Streets: the dimly lit but spacious café at the Divadlo Komedie, or Comedy Theatre. The theatre, which had a long and storied history, actually closed down last summer, and its tribulations and ultimate end are the subject of a documentary to which Radim is currently putting the finishing touches. The director, who lives around the corner, explains his connection to the now defunct institution.
“In the last decade Divadlo Komedie was really a most interesting and vibrant place, where really very strange plays were shown and there was a very nice group of actors. I chose some of them for my last film, Pouta. It was very nice to come here, watch a performance and then drink with actors or some bunch of friends here.
“My friendship with this theatre started maybe seven years ago, when I saw a short article in a magazine about a play by the Austrian writer Werner Schwab, Antiklimax, directed by Dušan Pařízek.
“I just went to the performance and I was so shocked and so surprised – it was so different than what you could see anywhere else in Prague. I started to become addicted to it.
“I really found good friends among this group of people. I was so surprised by the creativity, by the ideas, by the scenography, by the original subjects they chose for their work. I can say that I fell in love with it.”
Generally speaking, it seems to me that theater is very accessible in Prague; it’s very popular and there are a lot of theatres. Could you compare the theatre scene here to, say, in other cities you’ve been to?
“There are a lot of theatres, that’s true. But the majority of them are, let’s say, classical, they choose very classical pieces to show. There are not a lot of theatres which would be really original or brave enough to show something different.
“Sometimes you can see good things at the National Theatre, sometimes they have a good hit at Divadlo Na zábradlí [Theatre on the Balustrade], for instance. Dejvické Divadlo is also really good.
“But I think Divavlo Komedie was really different. And I hope that in the next few months or years another place will be born in Prague and people will take notice and say, oh, there’s something happening in that place.
“If you are quite familiar with Czech theatre, you can visit a theatre without fear that you will be disappointed. But I wouldn’t say there is anything comparable to Divadlo Komedie, that there is something unique like what was here.
“Also I really like the space here. It’s a real very old building in the centre of Prague. In the 1920s and ‘30s it was owned by the Czech comedian Vlasta Burian.
“It has a very nice history and somehow the genius loci is really present here, and it’s very pleasant just to be here and feel the atmosphere.”
The final stop on our tour of Radim Špaček’s Prague is the cozy bar Boudoir, which is located just where the city’s Francouská St. begins going downhill towards the now fashionable Vršovice district. What, for Radim, is the appeal of this place?
“It looks like a normal place, a normal bar. There is a good choice of my favourite, Grappa, which is a wine spirit from Italy, they have a lot of exotic rums, and I also like the beer – Svijany.
“But what I like most, and I had to admit I wasn’t so prepared for it, was the service. I have a quite fresh experience of my first trip to the USA, half a year ago, and what shocked me the most was the quality of service there, how everything is quick, everything is perfect, with a big smile – not like here in Prague or in the Czech Republic [laughs].
“So this place is a nice exception. The bartenders here are – apart from the fact that they are my friends – really very effective, very pleasant, very quick. Thanks to this, the atmosphere is very friendly and very nice.”
What kind of clientele do they get here?
“It’s a very special mixture. If you look around this area, which is almost on the edge of Vinohrady and Vršovice there are a lot of similar bars in the area, like Café v Lese, for example.
“A lot of young people come here, a lot of, let’s say, intellectuals. You can find people here reading books or reading [liberal weekly] Respekt, or just partying and drinking and having fun. I usually meet a lot of friends here, so I would say the majority of the clientele are like me [laughs].”
Otherwise, what bars do you go to most often in Prague, or what cafés?
“Because I live in the centre right now, my favourite place at the moment is Q Café, which is a gay place, in Opatovická St. It’s very pleasant, the surroundings are nice and they also have good beer. It’s very close to my home so sometimes I’m too lazy to go further to the next bar.
“Then there are also other places, like Krásný ztráty, where some of the bartenders who work here worked before. It’s a place with a tradition and is connected a lot with students from FAMU [film school] and filmmakers.
“And if you cross the river there’s another place on Kampa, Mlýnská kavarna, which is also a very pleasant place, though it’s maybe better in summer.”
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